Why community college students need dedicated manufacturing training labs

Key benefits that one community college has seen since opening a dedicated manufacturing lab and working with local industry.

Since it was founded in 1967, Edgecombe Community College (ECC) in North Carolina has focused on meeting the education, training, and cultural needs of the Edgecombe County community and surrounding areas. With about 8,000 students in its two-year degree, diploma, certificate, and continuing education programs, ECC was using a manufacturing lab that, while well equipped, had been assembled piecemeal over time.

Doug Parrish

With its milling machines, parts loader and robots, the lab captured the elements of computer-numerical control (CNC) automation, integration, and process control, and became a draw for manufacturing companies that were moving into the area. To accommodate this influx, ECC decided to move into a new building and enlist some new vendors to help update its technology programs. ECC partnered with Intelitek, a provider of curriculum and labs for advanced manufacturing training to implement the new program.

A dedicated manufacturing lab

The community college’s new Center for Innovation on the Tarboro campus opened for classes in January 2020. Focused on training, developing, and sustaining a skilled manufacturing workforce, the Center offers expanded educational and training opportunities to students and provides high school and adult student populations with hands-on access to advanced manufacturing technologies and practices. The center uses a blend of theoretical training and an advanced Computer Integrated Manufacturing Lab or CIM which was deployed by Intelitek and their local partner Learning Labs.

Here are the key benefits that ECC has seen since opening its dedicated manufacturing lab:

Make students invaluable to local employers

The college wanted a solution that offered flexibility to tailor the CIM lab to accurately reflect the needs of ECC’s service area, a solution that included industry recognized vendors and third-party certifications, and a solution that integrates seamlessly with the college. One of the key components to successful workforce development programs is a strong relationship between colleges and local employers, and the Center works with an advisory board of local industry managers to ensure they align their programs with industry needs. ECC offers four program areas to serve industry needs, which means there’s enough training for students to get into entry level positions at any of our local facilities. 

Equip students with the best tools

The college incorporates the Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) curriculum, which introduces students to automation and industrial applications of CIM manufacturing applications. The curriculum addresses the system’s approach to manufacturing and how to manage, maintain and optimize a production process.  

It also introduces basic concepts and procedures of CIM production as well as the components and devices in a CIM cell. Using OpenCIM Software with a fully simulated industrial CIM, students learn all aspects of a CIM production cycle, from customer order and inventory control, through automated manufacturing of materials into finished parts, to quality inspection and final delivery.

Provide a foundational curriculum and partnership

After selecting the CIM equipment and curriculum from Intelitek, ECC instructors worked with them and their local partner (Learning Labs) to install and train just as Covid-19 emerged. Using appropriate public health protocols, the teams worked together to install and implement the new CIM and robotics lab and train the instructional team. Despite everything, the system was delivered and set up on time, and Intelitek provided instructor training via a web-based curriculum that’s available to students 24/7. The curriculum covers 80% of what students need to learn, leaving the other 20% to instructors to personalize and customize for local industry needs.

Offer practical degrees that support success from day one on the job

Edgecombe Community College offers both one- and two-year programs as well as certificate programs. The two-year program includes 70 hours of college credit that includes everything from plant layout and design to a broader bundle of topics. The one-year program focuses on both residential and commercial electrical systems. The college’s goal with these degrees is to graduate and certify students with a basic set of industry skills to help them be productive on their first day of work, and in any industrial setting.  

Tuning into industry’s needs

With the dedicated manufacturing training lab, ECC has been able to tune even more into the needs of local industry. The college is now planning to add a second automated line in the same lab; an Industry 4.0 Internet of Things (IoT) system with higher level data functionality, artificial intelligence, virtual reality systems and digital twinning.

These plans support current industry, and ECC hopes that the new capability will attract even more industry. With its current leadership, partnership with local manufacturing companies, and vision for the future, Edgecombe Community College is both securing its future and serving the local community. 

Doug Parrish, MAEd, is the Department Chair for Industrial & Technical Trades at Edgecombe Community College in North Carolina. Doug is the lead in­structor for mechatronics and manufacturing courses and became the head of department in 2005. Before working in education, Doug worked in industry and has multiple technical certifications as an educator and as a certified trainer and has a passion for all things STEM.

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